It all started for me at Herring Run Park in Northeast Baltimore. Anyone not familiar with the neighborhood or the park could easily drive past the entrance near the intersection of Harford Road and Argonne Drive.
By day, this was where I’d get into a game of pickup basketball or join a bunch of friends on summer Saturdays my high school and college years for co-ed softball games.
But after dark, many of us parked there with a date in the lane alongside the softball field. It was where we wanted to land after the movies, roller skating, bowling or dinner.
Like almost every other city park, Herring Run has always technically closed at dusk. But I can’t recall anyone ever saying the police made them leave. Perhaps they had no reason to send folks home, because no serious problems ever occurred there.
A kind of etiquette was observed, with the vehicles parked at what appeared to be an official minimum distance from one another. The sounds of conversations and music from car radios were mostly faint.
For TV sitcom fans, this was our version of Inspiration Point on “Happy Days” or the duck pond on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Occasionally, a couple would leave their car for a stroll across the park to where Herring Run, the Back River tributary for which the park is named, flowed. The stroll led along a path and under a bridge to a less-secluded area.
Strolls offer a particular kind of respite for city dwellers like me. They offer an oasis, from busy roadways, noise or crowds of people, even if just a short distance away. Sometimes the walk includes a park bench for sitting together in a quiet place, making it easier to talk than in a restaurant.
If it’s a first date, maybe the setting will help get the romance started. For spouses, maybe it’s a moment to not worry about the kid’s orthodontist bill for a little while.
Here are my some of my favorite strolling spots:
The Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus
On any given evening, perhaps after dinner at Gertrude’s, or another North Baltimore restaurant, why not share a walk someplace close by? The Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus is right there.
My favorite place on campus is Keyser Quad, the area around the big lawn between Shriver Hall and Gilman Hall. The brick walks and the buildings surrounding the lawn are right out of a movie depiction of a college campus. After dark, it’s still and quiet, even though the steady flow of traffic on Howard Street and on Charles Street is only a few hundred yards away.
The light from the lampposts reflects off the building façades and marble steps. The only movement is the occasional security officer or a student walking by. The benches lining the lawn are perfect for sitting and talking.
The Baltimore Museum of Art Sculpture Gardens
Right near Hopkins is one of the best places for a daytime stroll. The Baltimore Museum of Art Sculpture Gardens are open during museum hours and provide stone walkways amid stone and steel sculptures.
There’s much there to admire: The Alan and Janet Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden houses 19 early modernist works by artists including Alexander Calder, Jacques Lipchitz, Isamu Noguchi and Auguste Rodin. A date with an art lover would offer the perfect opportunity to talk about the artists.
Just down the hill is the Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden, with 14 sculptures from the latter half of the 20th century by artists including Anthony Caro, Joan Miró, Louise Nevelson and Tony Smith.
Walking around in these spaces, North Charles Street traffic seems much farther away than it is.
Notice a North Baltimore bias? I’d never deny it. A lot of green space is to be found in that part of town, and some of the city’s most picturesque neighborhoods are there. I liked living in the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside and Charles Village neighborhoods, and I always enjoy the views when I’m in Roland Park, Guilford and Mount Washington.
I do have some southside favorites. On Federal Hill, it’s the view that matters. It works during the day and at night. So, after lunch or dinner downtown, it’s a climb up steep concrete steps, with the reward of having a great vantage point to look at the Inner Harbor and the downtown skyline.
It’s a small space, but there are park benches for sitting and talking. Al Pacino and Christine Lahti sat together on one in the movie “And Justice for All.” They strolled around Federal Hill and then shared what they knew about corruption in Baltimore’s courts from the bench.
Federal Hill also offers an opportunity to show off some knowledge about Baltimore history. In 1861, the 6th Massachusetts Militia and members of Cook’s Light Artillery of Boston occupied Federal Hill under the command of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler. The troops set up cannons pointed at Baltimore’s central business district across the harbor to secure the city’s allegiance. Or as I like to put it, if any of Baltimore’s many Confederate sympathizers started acting crazy, Gen. Butler was going to drop some cannon balls on their heads.
The Ambassador Dining Room
Back in North Baltimore, the Ambassador Dining Room is tucked away on the ground floor of the Ambassador Apartments, between Guilford and Homewood. Nearby are the well-known Guilford mansions, and the grandeur of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry building also within clear view.
The Ambassador Dining Room is a rarity for me — a restaurant where I never mind waiting for a table. I really enjoy its approach to Indian cuisine, so the food is worth a wait. And while waiting, or after the meal, a garden outside the rear of the restaurant’s patio awaits. It’s just made for a short walk or an opportunity to commune with a dinner companion.
The garden view is available from the patio and in the dining room. The Italian Renaissance and Beaux Arts Classical architecture of the Scottish Rite Temple is the backdrop for the garden.
Being out there feels like attending a garden party. Or maybe it’s what I think one is since I’ve never been to one and only know them from old Cary Grant movies.
But don’t impressions and imagination play a big part in what we expect when we take a stroll together and have a talk or share a laugh? Aren’t they essential to the joy we derive from romance and companionship?
Mark Williams is The Baltimore Banner’s Opinion Editor.